October 2, 2014

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Chris Assenheimer: Indians have given Carlos Carrasco more than enough chances, now it’s time to give someone else a try

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco throws to the San Francisco Giants Friday in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco throws to the San Francisco Giants Friday in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Hopefully, the Indians have seen enough of Carlos Carrasco.

Pretty sure Tribe fans have.

Carrasco, labeled a top-shelf prospect since the Indians landed him in 2009, was able to last six innings Friday night for the first time in four starts this season. But it was another unimpressive outing — four earned runs on five hits in a 5-1 loss to San Francisco — something Carrasco has offered up in each of his four starts (0-3, 6.95 ERA) after being chosen for the fifth spot in Cleveland’s rotation out of spring training.

Actually, poor outings have been the trademark of the Venezuelan right-hander since his last big league victory in 2011. Since then, Carrasco is 0-12 with an 8.09 ERA in 17 starts.

That’s a long streak of stink.

Yes, Carrasco is just two years removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, but health hasn’t been an issue since he missed the entire 2012 season recovering from the procedure.

I’m no pitching coach, nor a psychologist, but the bulk of Carrasco’s problems appear to be mental ones. He’s been suspended twice in his two-plus-year career for hitting batters after allowing home runs, and he’s talked of being tired prematurely in one of his outings this season and about the pressure he’s feeling since being named the fifth starter.

To me, Carrasco just doesn’t carry himself as a strong, confident starter — certainly not on the major league level. He never has, and the results are starting to say he never will.

We’re not talking about a young prospect anymore. At 27, Carrasco is no old man, but he probably should have figured it out by now. The Indians rave about his talent all the time, and it’s been on display for flashes (innings), so if it’s not mental, what is it?

Carrasco apologists will say there’s another struggling young pitcher in Cleveland’s rotation — right-hander Danny Salazar (0-3, 7.85 ERA in four starts) — who deserves a demotion.

They have an argument. The difference is that Salazar, three years younger than Carrasco, has shown the ability to compete, and excel, on a consistent basis against major league hitters — even if it was a 10-start stint last year.

That two-month stretch, which resulted in a 2-3 record and 3.12 ERA for Salazar, who also started the American League Wild-Card Game as a rookie, is more sustained effectiveness than the Indians have seen from Carrasco in four-plus years.

Salazar, who has already accomplished more than Carrasco, is no finished product. Alarmingly, Carrasco just might be.

If Carrasco is removed from the rotation, there are internal options for the Indians, who chose him over Triple-A Columbus right-handers Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer, and veteran righty Aaron Harang, who is now pitching at a top-shelf level out of Atlanta’s rotation.

Since revamping his attitude, approach and delivery this offseason, Bauer, 23, has already made one impressive spot start for the Indians this year — six innings, one earned run, four hits, eight strikeouts — and has lived up to the billing of a first-round draft choice at Columbus (2-0, 0.96 ERA in three starts).

The 29-year-old Tomlin (1-1, 2.77 ERA in four starts at Columbus) has expanded experience in a big league rotation (54 starts for the Indians from 2010-12) and pitched well enough to win the job this spring after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Both Triple-A pitchers look like better candidates to start on the big league level than Carrasco does at this point.

Problem is, those two pitchers have minor league options. Carrasco doesn’t. If the Indians remove Carrasco from the rotation and designate him for assignment, they run the risk of losing him to another team.

If that’s an unbearable thought, here’s another: Put Carrasco in the bullpen. He pitched well as a reliever late last year and probably should have begun the season in that role, with either Tomlin or Bauer filling the fifth spot in the rotation.

Whatever the Indians decide to do with Carrasco, hopefully they’ve seen enough of him as a starter. Anyone watching him pitch this season, already has.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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